Belgian Teenager Dies By Euthanasia, The First Minor To Be Granted Right To Assisted Suicide

A terminally-ill Belgian teenager has died after being granted the right to assisted suicide, the first case of a teenager in Europe being granted the right to euthanasia, BBC News is reporting.

As of this writing, nothing is known about the identity of the teen, nor what illness he or she suffered from. All authorities are saying is that he or she was 17-years-old and was “suffering unbearable pain.”

Belgium euthanasia commission head Wim Distelmans said the teenager was put to death via “palliative sedation” – that is, bringing them into a medically-induced coma as part of the process.

“Fortunately there are very few children who are considered [for euthanasia] but that does not mean we should refuse them the right to a dignified death.”

While euthanasia, or assisted suicide (the two terms have a slight difference in meaning but are generally interchangeable), is legal throughout much of Europe, only Belgium and The Netherlands allow assisted suicide for persons under 18. The Netherlands requires that children requesting assisted suicide be at least 12-years-old, have their full mental capacity, be suffering from “unbearable physical pain,” and have parents’ consent. Only Belgium allows children of any age to petition for the right to die by assisted suicide. Belgium lifted the age restriction in 2014.

Even though euthanasia and assisted suicide are becoming more accepted across Europe, not everyone is on board with the idea – in particular, the idea of allowing children to end their lives gives ethicists and pediatricians pause. Even taking children out of the equation, the idea of assisted suicide is a difficult thing to grapple with, even for those who support its legality.

Speaking to Newsweek in 2015, Theo Boer, a professor of ethics at the Theological University Kampen in the Netherlands said that he is concerned about making assisted suicide too easy.

“I like autonomy very much. But it seems to have overruled other values, like solidarity, patience, making the best of things. The risk now is that people no longer search for a way to endure their suffering. Killing yourself is the end of autonomy.”

Dutch physician Bert Keizer has helped “dozens” of patients end their lives in his 33 years of practicing medicine. Even though he supports assisted suicide, he says it is never easy.

“The fear is of doing something to a person you know can never be rescinded. I never had an easy [death].”

Europe’s liberal attitudes about assisted suicide have yet to catch on in the United States, however. Here, assisted suicide is illegal as a matter of federal law, though legal by state law in California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana. Each state has its own, specific requirements for allowing assisted suicide. In no state are children under 18 allowed that option.

According to a 2013 U.S. News and World Report report, the majority of physicians in the U.S. are against assisted suicide, by a margin of about 33 percent in favor and 67 percent opposed.

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Dr. R. Sean Morrison, president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, says that physicians shouldn’t be focusing on helping their patients die. Rather, he says, they should focus on “palliative care” – that is, making sure their final days are as peaceful and comfortable as possible.

“When high-quality palliative care is provided, people are comfortable, they live longer, they spend time with their families and the worries that drive somebody to say ‘I would like assisted death’ typically vanish.”

That attitude, says Barbara Coombs Lee, ignores the wishes of people who are enduring agonizing pain.

“It is unacceptable that people should be forced to endure suffering against their will.”

Do you think physician-assisted suicide should be legal? Should it be legal for children under 18?

[Featured Image by ARZTSAMUI/Shutterstock]